Alongside a few feature-lengths, this year’s Telling Tales presented a superb diversity of films with a 30 minute or less running time. From the UK to the Netherlands and to America, a wide range of nationalities in filmmaking were on show, presenting stories on the likes of racism, autism, rap battles and a local pub. Below are the three standouts from the festival.
Opening with an animation transcending into live-action, having succeeded an on-screen annotation reading, “My words possess many treasures undiscovered.” Sisterly is the intimate story of Nina Vallado attempting to communicate with her autistic sister, Lisa. Sisterly is sometimes frightening in its explicitness of Nina’s thought process towards her sister, as in one instance she narrates, “I often look at my sister and wonder what she’s thinking, if she’s really there.”
Home video footage speeds up the process from childhood and sister-births to the present day, and what is presented to the viewer establishes a sickening discomfort at times. The home video footage shows Nina making home movies with her friends, but in narration, Nina reveals that her friends were scared of Lisa. Lisa’s autism is to the extent where she predominantly communicates via stencil, can only pronounce the occasional few words, but mostly “All done,”, and has effectively been demoted to be the youngest child, despite being the middle. Nina, Lisa and their youngest sibling, Karen, do engage in activity together – in footage captured on the beach and at home, they like to play the game of looking for Lisa’s lost things. Nina, however, does possess hesitance in connection with Lisa, thus the continual connection through the lens of a camera, rather than casual face-to-face interaction. Later in Sisterly, Nina does attempt to break the mould and properly connect with Lisa.
It is recollected that because of the autism, “Everyone set low expectations for Lisa”, though beautifully, as part of the Class of 2015, Lisa graduates. Perhaps, the most beautiful sequences of Sisterly, it is overwhelmingly wonderful to see Lisa overcome both the odds and low expectations.
Love Thy Neighbour
From the outside, Love Thy Neighbour is just a documentary on a Christian man and his life of worship within Norfolk, but no, this is something much darker than that.
Love Thy Neighbour opens with an intimate, but almost comedic prayer shared between Mark and his prayer partner within a sitting room, where the former asks for his children to be protected, and his friend, Irene, to be helped. Irene Carter is the director of Love Thy Neighbour, but a friend of Mark also.
Having established his religious background, Mark is subsequently presented to be a casual racist with distaste for Islam. Walking through the former luxurious seaside town of Great Yarmouth, Mark recollects the glamorous days of yesteryear, then remarks on its contemporary state with, “Not too many English people round here.”
During the production of Love Thy Neighbour, the Manchester Arena attack occurred. Serving as an important plot point, Mark’s hate towards Islam almost spirals out of control, causing concern for the viewer, as there is the establishment of expectation that Mark could radicalise his young-ish kids into bigotry. Ironically, the best friend of one of Mark’s sons…is a Muslim. Thankfully, Mark’s children do not follow their dad’s ideology.
Irene’s direction of Love Thy Neighbour establishes the feel of a short, part-of-a-compilation, Channel 4 or Channel 5 documentary. Irene narrates her documentary, but is a presence behind the camera too, almost always interacting with Mark. Ultimately, Irene is overwhelmingly successful in establishing the irony that exists within racists and Islamophobes, though also presenting the toxic mindsets within “Little England” and “Little Englanders”.
Limits of Freedom
The best film in this range, but also the most shocking and heartbreaking; Limits of Freedom explores the lives and routines of a group of street kids in Nepal.
In the UK, kids are often seen on the street kicking a football, going to the shops, or carrying ice pops in the summer. In Kathmandu, Nepal, a group of three children – aged 11-15 – are sniffing bags of glue as they roam the streets and alleyways, begging for change. Later, during the night, the same children drink alcohol, smoke weed, and smoke cigarettes. These are children.
Social worker, Pravin, acts as the connection between the three children and the documentary crew, led by Joe Gist and Adrian Joseph. Pravin asks the children questions, almost in the manner of a police officer, but also follows the children to where they live and roam, but also takes the documentary crew around a rehab centre, of which he works within.
In exploring youth poverty, neglect and violence are both apparent. The oldest of the boys is present with a scar/cut across his face, received from a random street attack conducted by an adult. The other children talk about their alcoholic parenting, whilst another was beaten by their step-mother. Child abuse is clearly at home as it is on the streets.
Joe Gist and Adrian Joseph deserve the utmost credit and respect for attempting this project and successfully delivering. Crowd-funded, Limits of Freedom is a magnificent achievement in the production of factual filmmaking. It is documentaries like Limits of Freedom that inspire people to go out and make a change to someone’s life. Limits of Freedom leaves a lasting impact – something every documentary should do.